Being an international professional board gamer sounds like the kind of thing James Bond might indulge in during his summer break – but for Rob Salmon, it’s a case of “done that – next!” He talked to Oliver R. Moore-Howells about his latest venture, Rhondda board game cafe Game Of Gnomes.
Having been part of an eight-man professional gaming ensemble, named The Gnomes on account of their tall statures, Luton-born Rob Salmon decided he wanted to open his own board game place in Penygraig, a small town in the Rhondda. Drawn by its natural beauty and wild walks whilst holidaying there with his two daughters, Rob moved from Cambridge in February 2023 and opened the business in August – having previously helped three of his buddies set up similar emporia during the last 20 years.
With the word ‘gnome’ from Salmon’s previous days of professional gaming and that of his e-commerce business, Gnome-trader, circling his head, it made sense not to let his history go to waste. However, it was only when his daughter sent him an autocorrected email title – concerning a Game Of Thrones essay she had been working on for her modern media degree – that the shop’s eventual name first took hold.
Painted bright yellow on the outside and bedecked with high-quality light fittings, wooden floors, oak beams and a mantlepiece, Game Of Gnomes has been designed with excellence in mind as well as that of utility. With numerous boardgames to rent and buy, the café also sells collectable card games and boasts two multi-game arcade machines: one sporting arcade classics from 1974 to 1996, and the other, console games from the likes of Sega, Nintendo and even Commodore’s 80s relic Amiga. For anyone who’s visited, the café operates with the warmth and charm of a community hub rather than a business.
“I started it out of a desire for sociability and meeting like-minded nerds,” says Salmon, having abandoned his painting of Blood Bowl figurines in favour of speaking with Buzz. With gaming meaning a great deal to him, so too does his need for creating an affordable safe place for the community where he is firm but fair with the local teenagers, having experienced problems and victimisation in the gaming community himself.
In addition, he recognises other positive impacts that gaming can have, especially in light of his own experiences. “Growing up, I was savagely dyslexic, and due to being undiagnosed, was labelled ‘thick’. It was because of Dungeons & Dragons that I learned to read and write, when my dad brought it home for me at the age of 10.” And, if he had his way, these days he’d love to be invited to play it with the Critical Role gang, whose YouTube channel boasts more than two million subscribers.
Being as community-minded as Salmon is, Game Of Gnomes has changed its opening times to allow children a place to go after school – and allows regular customers to store their coffee mugs for safekeeping behind the counter. “I’m a single parent who comes here twice a week including every Wednesday to play Uno with my nine-year-old daughter whilst my other daughter’s swimming. It’s a lovely, friendly atmosphere and good cheap coffee. He makes everyone welcome!” says John Goddard, a regular who lives just a couple of streets away.
So, if you want to escape into creative, imaginary worlds, make new friend and find another place to call home then Game Of Gnomes is a must. And remember, your coffee mug’s safe in Rob’s hands!
Game Of Gnomes, 95 Tylacelyn Rd, Penygraig, Tonypandy.
words OLIVER R. MOORE-HOWELLS